NEWTOWN, Pa. — Two former presidents were among those who came to Pennsylvania to campaign for Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, in the last weekend before Tuesday’s midterm elections.
Speaking on the campus of Bucks County Community College on Sunday in the last rally of a busy weekend, Fetterman again acknowledged that he’s still struggling with the aftermath of a May stroke but vowed to keep fighting. Fetterman is running against Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz for the seat.
“By January, I’m going to be feeling better and better,” Fetterman said. “But Dr. Oz will still be a fraud.”
The event was a joint appearance headlined by state Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Josh Shapiro — the pair’s second event together in as many evenings. Democrats hope that Shapiro, who is polling well in his race against Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano, will help pull Fetterman across the finish line.
An attendee of the Jan. 6, 2021, rally at the U.S. Capitol who has called for a total ban on abortion and been tied to antisemitic figures, Mastriano has proven a toxic commodity for Republicans, with most national GOP groups staying out of the race. A number of prominent Pennsylvania Republicans are also backing Shapiro.
Although polls indicate that Oz has caught up some with Fetterman, the Pennsylvania Senate race is seen as the Democrats’ best chance by far to flip a Republican seat. With Democratic incumbents polling in tight races across the nation, the Keystone State is key to the party’s hopes of holding onto the Senate.
While the few hundred assembled Sunday evening were enthusiastic, the scale paled in comparison to the massive crowds who turned out Saturday on both ends of the state.
On Saturday night in Philadelphia, Fetterman and Shapiro were joined by President Biden and former President Barack Obama, while earlier in the day Obama had rallied for Fetterman near the University of Pittsburgh. It was a full-on embrace of a candidate who didn't receive much backing from elected Democrats during his primary, which Fetterman won easily last May after trekking to rural areas where the party has been crushed in recent elections.
The underlying message in the Democrats' closing argument was that Oz, who was criticized over the years for promoting questionable products and theories on his long-running syndicated television show, wasn't trustworthy enough to earn the vote of Pennsylvanians.
Speaking at the Pittsburgh rally, Obama told a crowd of more than 6,000 that Oz had offered plenty of solutions over the years, but questioned the efficacy of some products the celebrity doctor suggested for weight loss, fighting leg cramps and preventing dementia.
“Never mind that none of these things have been proven to work,” Obama said. “Some things might be harmful. You just got to believe — then hand over your credit card information. It’s easy to joke about Dr. Oz and all the quack remedies he’s pushed on people, but it matters. It says something about his character. If somebody is willing to peddle snake oil to make a buck, then he’s probably willing to sell snake oil to get elected.”
Democrats also mocked Oz as an opportunist who spent nearly $27 million of his personal fortune on the race in a state he hasn't lived in for decades. (Oz attended medical and business school at the University of Pennsylvania.)
Biden, a Scranton native, needled Oz for moving from New Jersey last year to run for the seat. “I lived in Pennsylvania longer than Oz has lived in Pennsylvania, and I moved away when I was 10 years old,” Biden told the crowd.
Fetterman continues to struggle with auditory processing issues while recovering from a stroke that hospitalized him days before the May 17 primary. The candidate struggled at last month’s lone debate but was clearer in his speeches over the race’s final weekend, although still occasionally missing words.
“There's a pro tip: Please, if you're gonna give a speech after you've been recovering from a stroke, you really don't want to have to come before Barack Obama,” Fetterman said Saturday in Pittsburgh.
Oz has spent the race’s final weeks arguing that he is the true moderate, saying he’ll fight extremism if elected. He’s spent millions on ads portraying Fetterman as a left-wing radical, attacking the Democrat’s record on crime and work on the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons.
A few miles away from the Democrats’ Sunday night rally, Oz had held a business roundtable earlier in the day with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., two relatively moderate Republicans.
When talk show magnate Oprah Winfrey endorsed Fetterman last week despite helping launch Oz’s television career, his campaign’s statement was magnanimous, saying, “Doctor Oz loves Oprah and respects the fact that they have different politics. He believes we need more balance and less extremism in Washington.”
But while he played the moderate on Sunday, the night before was a different story as Oz rallied with former President Donald Trump and Mastriano at an airport outside Pittsburgh.
During a lengthy speech in which he barely mentioned the candidates he was endorsing, Trump again pushed the baseless conspiracy that the 2020 election was stolen from him — Oz has been criticized for hirng campaign staffers who pushed to overturn the election result — while Mastriano said he appreciated being associated with the Senate candidate.
“There was one thing I liked that Fetterman said the other day, just one thing,” Mastriano said in Latrobe. “When he accused Oz of rolling with Mastriano.”
Democrats have also argued that Oz is to the right of retiring Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., on guns. The gun safety group Everytown, which had backed Toomey in the past, has been running ads criticizing both Oz and Mastriano on the issue.
And Democrats have seized on comments Oz made at last month’s debate in which he said abortion should be up to “women, doctors, local political leaders.” Democrats say Mastriano, who wants to ban essentially all abortions in the state, is the local political leader Oz has in mind.
The Oz campaign hopes that it can win over enough Shapiro voters to close the gap with Fetterman. But Shelley Howland, a Bucks county resident in eastern Pennsylvania, told Yahoo News that she doesn’t think there will be enough voters engaged in “ticket splitting” — in this case, voters who support both Oz and Shapiro — for the Republican to win.
A longtime Republican who switched her registration to Democrat following Trump’s victory, Howland is featured in a pro-Fetterman ad that began airing last month. While she says she expected people in the area to vote for Fitzpatrick, the Republican congressman, and then Democrats in the statewide races, she hadn’t heard of party splits in the major statewide races.
“I have not had any conversations with anybody that would be a ticket splitter,” Howland, a Republican who became a Democrat after the 2016 election, said. Howland was featured in a pro-Fetterman ad that began airing last month, and said that while she expected some moderates in the area would vote for Fitzpatrick, the Republican congressman, they would otherwise support Democrats in the statewide contests.
“I have a small group of friends that will stick to the Republican Party and vote for Republican candidates,” she said. “And I have friends that are both Republican and Democrat that will vote a Democratic ticket.”
“I don't know how you could vote for Shapiro and then Oz; that to me is just way out of line,” Howland added. “Or, even worse, Mastriano and Fetterman.”